Stella first stumbled across Global Sisters while researching content for our blog The Australian Female-Led Businesses to Keep Watching in 2021 and what we loved most was the impact of Global Sisters who through their programs make it possible for women who are unable to participate in mainstream employment to be a part of an eco-system that supports female entrepreneurship, connections, and community while enabling these incredible women to not only be financially resilient but financially independent as well.
At the start of 2021, Global Sisters took all of their programs online as part of our ‘scale program’ to make everything they do even more accessible so they could support even more women. When Covid hit they had more than 6000 women register their interest in the space of just a few months, and since then they have supported more than 5000 Australian women on the business journeys as well as facilitated $3M in value of external pro bono corporate support to emerging women-led micro businesses.
We knew this platform had to be the work of a woman, so we dug a little deeper and it was there that we found the incredible story of Mandy Richards the CEO and founder of Global sisters who is a social entrepreneur fiercely passionate about human rights, animal welfare, eradicating poverty and empowering women. Mandy’s diverse career path over the past 20+ years has spanned the commercial and not-for-profit sectors where she has worked internationally on government business incubation programs in Botswana and New Zealand, as well as for high profile charities including the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals in Ethiopia and locally as National Marketing Manager for the RSPCA.
Since launching in 2016 Mandy and the Global Sisters Team have empowered women by helping them launch their businesses, as well as scaling them, giving women the confidence, support and financial income they needed to become the female leaders they are today.
What inspired you to become a social entrepreneur and, more specifically, to launch Global Sisters?
I don’t ever think of myself as a social entrepreneur… I’m definitely entrepreneurial and I am only interested in spending my time on things that I consider worthwhile and in the most efficient, high impact manner possible. I wanted to help women in a real way that would create lasting economic and social change, rather than just a temporary band aid, and I knew the highest-impact ways to do this were through education and employment.
My interest and experience were around the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship, social enterprise & micro business and I knew there was a big need and an equally big gap in supporting women with inadequate incomes to become self-employed. We live in such a wealthy country yet women and family rates of homeless and child poverty are inexcusably high. Women face so many gendered barriers to employment – particularly once they have carer responsibilities or hit middle age. They often need flexible alternatives to earn an income that fits their circumstances, and self-employment has always been the obvious answer to this or at least part of the solution. Unfortunately systemic, cultural, social and physical barriers can make this difficult.
So far, what has been the impact of Global Sisters?
We have supported more than 5500 Australian women on their business journeys and supported 1000+ new businesses and social enterprises selling as well as having enabled the transfer of $3M+ in pro bono support and external business opportunities from corporates to emerging, women-led micro businesses. We have a particular focus on single mothers and older women but support an incredibly diverse and vibrant community of women of all ages across Australia. For many women being a part of Global Sisters and establishing themselves as a self-employed business owner builds confidence and hope. Belonging to a supportive community and earning income contributes towards combatting social isolation, mental and physical illness, old age homelessness, vulnerability to domestic abuse, and contributes to breaking generational poverty cycles.
Based on your own experience, what are some of the challenges women face when embarking on the path of entrepreneurship, and, specifically, in terms of financing?
The biggest challenge we see is confidence – which seems to be a widespread female trait.
While finance is of course important, it is actually a fair way down the list of support required based on our experience. Women need a community, education and coaching, somewhere to sell and long-term continuity of support. This is not a short term 12-week business plan game if long term financial independence and true economic participation is to be obtained.
We find our Sisters to be risk-averse and to ride the slow and steady business journey, continually testing and iterating. They save or borrow from their families then reinvest in their businesses, and grow in a manner that is relatively safe and doesn’t fall over. They are generally juggling many balls, and don’t have the time or luxury of freedom from responsibility to throw caution to the wind and risk everything, for a fast and furious ‘success or bust’ scenario.
Our systems change strategy involves working with financial services firms to bring out products and services for women on low incomes to help them leverage their income and obtain assets. We need to ensure that both appropriate and accessible financial products and services are available to support Australian women to join the dots on their financial journeys and build a path to financial independence.
What is one of your greatest achievements during your time with Global Sisters? (Can we talk about an amazing woman who has utilised the program to create a better future for herself?)
Our achievement is simply to provide the women we support with what they need when they need it to move forward, and we are learning and improving this every day! We have so many incredible women in our community doing amazing things with either their micro-businesses or social enterprises.
Jo-Ann Lee is an incredible Indigenous chef, single mother & entrepreneur who provides catering as well as a growing range of bush tucker food products for retail. Through our first Sister Pitch event, we facilitated a collaboration between Goanna Hut and T2 that was worth close to $100k and saw Jo’s teas in T2 stores nationwide as well as being promoted to millions of T2 subscribers.
Migrant Cyana Duong is in her 20’s and arrived in Australia unable to speak English. Cyana launched an eco-floristry events business Camie Fleur prior to Covid which took a steep dive when the pandemic hit and events halted. She quickly transitioned to selling her lifelike, sustainable faux flowers online, and with the help of Global Sisters appeared on SBS TV, hit triple figures and has just moved into her first warehouse!
If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out in business what would that be?
Start small but just start…don’t wait for everything to be perfect and start by market testing your initial idea with friends, family & community. Get much feedback as you can, look at what the successful competitors are doing right and focus on continually improving. Also, make sure your business is a #GOODbusiness – one that looks after people and the planet in all aspects.
If you could have a billboard with anything on it, what would it be and why?
Incredible things happen when you back women.
If all women are able to participate in the economy it is better for everyone – we’ll have stronger, healthier and happier families and communities, and we’ll also have a much stronger economy!
How can our community get on board and support Global Sisters?
Purchasing from the Global Sisters Marketplace means you are impacting a Sister and her family directly with every $ spent. You can also purchase our Gift Cards as a thoughtful gift – personal or corporate! www.marketplace.globalsisters.org
What’s next for you and Global Sisters in 2022 and beyond?
We have lots planned! We have a 5-year goal of supporting 47,000 Australian women and seeing 17,000 new micro-businesses and social enterprises selling. We are also working on a system change strategy geared towards making the external environment more conducive to the launch and growth of successful women-led businesses.
Micro businesses are the starting point for most businesses irrespective of size and provide the backbone to our economy. It is critical to the economy that they start being supported properly and we need to remove structural and systemic barriers to support this. Microbusinesses need to be recognised, elevated and celebrated across the board. Welfare policy needs to make self-employment a genuine alternative for women given mainstream employment is simply an impossibility for many due to their circumstances.
Lastly, we want to support Australian women to leverage their incomes no matter how small – so that a series of stepping stones move them forwards as they get older rather than backwards and they can achieve economic security asap. – an outcome that is in the interests of the entire economy.